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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Harry's Hofbrau

I'm now going to write some things that will no doubt piss off many, many decent people who are amongst the many longtime faithful who patronize Harry's Hofbrau in Redwood City.

The food is beyond mediocre. It just plain out sucks.

OK, ok, ok. True, it was my first and only time there. Maybe I missed something. Maybe they have the most kick-ass carved or sandwiched roast beef or turkey leg or beef brisket, and if so I profusely apologize.

Or then, maybe once was enough and maybe that queasy feeling I had while we were driving back to the city was an indication of how much this place's food blows.

But first, some background.

Harry's Hofbrau is perhaps the Bay Area's only chain hofbrau, perhaps owing to its early success to it's original location in Redwood City (which in the 1950s and 60s was home to many young, large suburban families) and on the reputation and business savvy of it's founder, Harry Kramer, an Austrian immigrant who prior to opening Harry's had a history of operating a small chain of 24-hour restaurants called "Kramer's".

In fact, the original Harry's Hofbrau was so successful that, upon hearing of Harry's retirement from the restaurant business, that other famous (or infamous depending on who you ask) American icon, Denny's, offered to buy it in 1969. Instead, Harry's son, Larry acquired the business and opened up Harry's Hofbraus in many parts of the South and East Bay.

But as we all know, time hasn't been kind to hofbraus. While many still have their longtime regulars, and even a few new ones, many of these independent, family-run businesses have had to shut their doors for good, including the Harry's Hofbrau in Mountain View 5 years ago. Although, one has to speculate whether it was closed because lack of business (hard to believe from reading this article) or because it was the sacrificial lamb whose land value was so immense Larry Kramer willingly put it up on the chopping block.

Lucky for the original location that it's not in the prettiest part of town. In fact, it's right off of Highway 84 and El Camino Real, next to a shuttered Slavic bookstore, various mercados, and the former site of "The Answer", Redwood City's no-tell, gay bar – the type that historically sought out the loneliest, often seediest, parts of Californian small towns.

Despite this, Harry's Hofbrau must be the local community meeting hall, since a brief scanning over the Internet netted results such as the holiday party of the San Mateo County Council of the Blind and the Peninsula Channel Commanders (a flying radio-controlled model plane club) and the next meetings of the Loma Prieta chapter of the Sierra Club and the local Meeting For Good (a singles group consisting of volunteers) chapter.

In fact, while Bruce and I were eating, a group of 15 people charged in followed by a family of six and a group of 10 ROTC cadets with their commanders.

As far as décor goes, Harry's is more tacky than kitchy (including the spinning roasting turkeys in the window displays on either side of the entry doors) and a lot "Applebee's".

It's a huge restaurant where the bar area is separate from the dining area. In the dining area, there are no televisions playing sports and references to beer steins and German stereotypes abound in the midst of very un-German things such as old photos of general stores and other early 20th century American businesses. I don't know if it's the owner or the management twisting the whole American hofbrau model to fit a German stereotype, but it's quite pathetic. American hofbraus don't need to "act German", because unless they specialize in spaetzle, muesli, schnitzel, sauerbraten, and have a German beer selection other than Heineken and Amstel Lite, they're not.

Also, what kind of German hofbrau serves $8.60 turkey enchiladas (sic, "enchalada")? And while we're at it, what kind of German hofbrau serves enchiladas but no tortilla chips?

Also, the place is way too bright for my tastes and as everyone knows, the Germans and the Austrians are not exactly famous for being shiney happy people holding hands. I mean, have you ever listened to Rammstein? Because, if you have, you would know that that and Dusty Springfield's "Son of a Preacher Man" which was playing at Harry's the night we were there, are about as polar opposite as Madonna and Judaism.

Note: I'm not dissing on Dusty. That's my girl.

The restaurant looked as if over the years they had remodeled to infinity until what was left was as characterless as the cheesy beer stein-print seat covers.

This was also the most expensive hofbrau I've been to yet. $12.48 is what I spent for a corned beef dinner and a glass of iced tea. The corned beef dinner came with freshly sliced corned beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, a "hot side" (mac and cheese) and a dinner roll with butter.

To break it all down for you, the corned beef was very salty and a little too fatty. I'm not an expert on corned beef, so if it was awesome, it was lost on me. Eating a whole plate of it made me ill. Also, what's with that rainbow sheen certain cured products have? That freaks me out.

Or perhaps what made me ill was the mac and cheese, which was colder than a witch's tit (no offense to wiccans, especially those who hold their annual meetings at Harry's) and congealed into one large Government-Cheesy clump. Blah!

Also, I thought the dish was called "mashed potatoes and gravy", heavy emphasis on the former. Instead, I got a small little ice cream scoop of potatoes floating like an island is a sea of pretty bad gravy. Contrast this with the side of mashed potatoes and gravy I got at the Chick-N-Coop and you'll understand how appalled I was.

And the roll?

Please, you could stone an apostate with it. Or at least crack your housekeepers head.

If I was a Mormon polygamist with a whole village of incestuous children and relatives to feed, I still would have to think twice about Harry's.

You know, if it was a true dive, I may have looked on it a little more generously because then you would expect shitty food in such an establishment. This place has an air about it and a price that tries to place it in a category above dive, and all I've got to say is: it is (shitty) and it isn't (dive-worthy).

Have you ever seen that show "Keeping Up Appearances"?

Think of Harry's Hofbrau as Hyacinth Bucket.

"…er, uh, excuse me, but it's bou-kay."

Normally, with the livelihoods of the workers in mind, I would be hard-pressed to tell you, my gentle readers, to avoid a place, seeing as I though I would never want to have the hardship of anyone unemployed hanging like an albatross around my neck.

But seeing as though Harry's Hofbrau isn't in any danger of losing the Amateur Radio Enthusiasts meetings, the blind people's holiday parties, and the large family factions, I feel at ease in telling you to skip it and head due north to the City That Knows How.



At 3:57 AM, Blogger Cali said...

I know why cured meats have that "rainbow sheen." It is the combination of two factors. The meats used for curing are almost always fatty cuts of meat. The second factor is that cured meats are always brined, which is essentially the same as "water added." When you mix oil (fat) and water, the oil floats to the top and then refracts the light causing the "rainbow sheen."

I am enjoying your Dive reports tremendously! I hope you guys are loading up on steamed vegetables, brown rice and oatmeal for your other meals while you are on this Hoff Brau mission. Kevin and Bruce, *raises glass of red wine* to your health and hearts!

At 8:30 AM, Blogger Dive said...

Wow! Thanks Cali!

You're a regular Harold McGee!

And yes, I've been trying to balance out the hofbrau food with some fresh, uncooked veggies.

However, I've also been sneaking off to Chinatown during lunch for big steaming plates of Beef Chow Fun in Black Bean Sauce.

And just the other night, I made a Thai curry that was delish.

But I appreciate your concern. It is justly warranted.

I'll eat something green today.


At 10:11 PM, Blogger Cali said...

Wow! *blush* I'm honored!

What do ya say we hit a couple of these dives next time I'm in The City? I love a good dive!


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